China
Suspension Bell (Bo)
Eastern Zhou dynasty (770–256 B.C.), first half of 5th century B.C.

Bronze
62.2 x 43.6 x 36.8 cm (24 1/2 x 17 3/16 x 14 1/2 in.)
Lucy Maud Buckingham Collection, 1938.1335

During the Zhou dynasty, a period of political upheaval and artistic creativity, music accompanied ceremonies and banquets that honored royal ancestors and commemorated changing seasons. The artistry and acoustical expertise of bronze casters were demonstrated in the production of clapperless bells. These ornately decorated instruments were cast in sets of graduated size, hung from suspension loops in order of height from horizontal beams, and sounded by striking them from the outside with wooden mallets. Each bell was designed to emit two tones: one by striking the center of the lower panel and another by striking the side.

This monumental bell is lavishly crafted with several layers of relief. The lowest panel is cast with interlaced bands and dragon heads accented with raised curls. Above are registers of protruding knobs in the form of coiled serpents, which may have muted sustained vibrations to permit fast rhythms. The elaborate suspension loop is cast as a pair of griffin-like creatures with crested heads and sharply beaked mouths. Each curves backward to swallow its trunk, from which project a pair of clawed legs and flat, feathered wings that spread over the bell’s top surface. Embellishing the surface is a variety of dense, small-scale patterns, each created by successively pressing a stamp into the clay piece-molds used in casting. Close examination of this bell reveals a grid-like repetition of identical patterns.